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The Hollisters: today Houston, tomorrow...?

By Brian Wahlert, December 1997

Ever since they played their first show in June 1995, the Hollisters havebeen winning over Houston country fans left and right.

Their conquest of the nation's fourth largest city concluded this past summer with the Best C&W award from the Houston Press, and now with their first album, "The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure," just released on Austin's Freedom Records, they're ready to expand their horizons.

"We're ready to move on now," says lead singer Mike Barfield. "We got the CD out, and it's time to work on getting out of town."

Imagine Johnny Cash singing with Bakersfield-sound instrumentals, and you have a decent feel for The Hollisters's music. "Obviously, Johnny Cash is a big hero," Barfield says. "Because I'm a baritone, I get told I sound more like him than anybody."

He also points to Johnny Horton and George Jones as influences and "a lot of the early Sun Records stuff, too, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley's early stuff before he got into the movies. And I've listened to a lot of blues and swing, too, so I like a lot of those singers."

One of the most interesting songs on the new album is "Deacon Brown." "I started off doing that as a waltz," Barfield says, "and then it goes to kind of a polka beat."

Its tale of a deacon's son who kills his love with a Barlow knife is the kind of great murder story that isn't often heard anymore. "That was just one of those things that kind of came to me," says Barfield.

Although the band's only been playing together for a couple years, its members have put in time in several other outfits. Lead guitarist Eric Danheim played with Austin's The Wagoneers for several years, and Barfield fronted a popular Houston band, the Rounders.

"We were both wanting to start something fresh, ad we kind of had the same ideas about what we wanted to do, the kind of music we wanted to play. The initial band was just me and the guitar player. And then we got the rhythm section (Denny Dale on bass and Kevin Fitzpatrick on drums)...They had just finished playing with a rhythm-and-blues guy."

The band may be helped by the current popularity of alt.-country. "I'm glad for it," Barfield says. "I think it's good any time there's a resurgence in people...having respect for roots in any kind of music, going back and looking at music...in a more appreciative and historical context but trying to take something forward, too, without it just being a trend."

Although radio promotion won't start for the CD until January, accolades are already coming in from afar.

Barfield says, "We got a call from this guy (in England) that's really crazy about it, this breakfast DJ there...They want to make it the CD of the week." The band plans to tour in Europe for the first time early in 1998.

In a just world, experienced, talented bands like The Hollisters would be country radio superstars instead of "the sheen and the polish" and "pretty faces and tight jeans" that, in Barfield's words, are today's mainstream country scene.

Well, the world isn't fair, but at least The Hollisters's CD and tour should take the music of Houston's best country band to a broader audience.